What really made AR Rahman angry about Masakali 2.0?

Manoj Kumar R
ar rahman

Composer AR Rahman lost his cool after the release of Tanishk Bagchi's Masakali 2.0.

When somebody asks whether you remember the last time AR Rahman was angry, you know the question itself sounds ridiculous. It is hard to imagine him clenching his teeth, flinching fist, screaming loud, pounding on his desk or smashing his piano in rage. It is like Master Oogway fat-shaming Po and depriving the world of the most warm-hearted warrior. Like Oogway, Rahman always sees the bigger picture. And his monk-like maturity had always been on display, especially the words he had picked to react to several controversies surrounding him in the past.

But, something unthinkable happened.

The world found out that even Rahman could get mad, courtesy Tanishk Bagchi’s “reimagination” of Masakali.

AR Rahman understands the business behind bringing back a catchy old song and sprucing it with hip electronic sounds. It is one of the easiest and sure-shot ways to get the attention of the audience and make money in the process. For example, the original Masakali song video uploaded on T-series' YouTube channel has garnered only 22 million views in the last eight years. However, in just three days, Masakali 2.0 has amassed a whopping 20 million views and counting for the same channel.

But, something about Masakali 2.0 touched a raw nerve. Rahman could have easily chosen to ignore it and move on. But, when a sage-like Rahman decides to make his rage public, it goes on to show that there is something seriously wrong with Bollywood’s obsession of tampering with old songs.

“No short cuts, properly commissioned, sleepless nights, writes and re-writes. Over 200 musicians, 365 days of creative brainstorming with the aim to produce music that can last generations. A team of a Director, a Composer and a Lyricist supported by actors, dance directors and a relentless film crew – Lots of love and prayers (sic),” thundered AR Rahman.

Imagine how upset the Oscar-winning music composer must have been, to react like that. Even when his words sound polite, Rahman publicly criticizing the work of other artistes is somewhat equivalent to Hulk unsparingly manhandling Loki in The Avengers.

What really made Rahman angry about Masakali 2.0? There may be many things like the lack of imagination of its creators or cringe-worthy use of a beloved melody. Maybe, Rahman wanted to immediately disown the song publicly just to let people know that he had nothing to do with it. Or it could even be the lack of respect for the honest efforts that went into the making of Masakali.

There is nothing wrong about reimagining a work of art. Quentin Tarantino built an impressive body of work by reimagining every scene ever made in the history of cinema. From India to Hong Kong, from Hitchock to Akira Kurosawa, Tarantino takes everything from cinema. He enriches the source of the inspiration with his element of originality and gives it back to cinema. His love for cinema has made him one of the highly influential filmmakers of the 21st century. So much so that Tarantinoesque is identified as an adjective in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Now, what makes Tarantinoesque so superior compared to Tanishk Bagchiesque? Simple, passion. Tarantino reimagines his inspiration with an infectious amount of passion and love that inspires more creation.

AR Rahman himself is a master of recreation. For example, no musician ever reimagined the title of our national song Vande Mataram as he did in the song Maa Tujhe Salaam, which he composed as a single song to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of India’s independence. In the history of India’s indie pop, is there another song that inspires such passion, patriotism and national unity? Probably not.

Rahman has also re-envisioned classical songs for movies: Thootal Poo Malarum for New (2004) and Ponmagal Vandaal for Azhagiya Tamil Magan (2007). He did not tamper with the original lyrics of these songs. Instead, he took the songs and made them as his own by changing the very nature of these melodies. His work on these songs was an ode to the source of their inspirations.

Also Read | Mohit Chauhan: Why call it ‘Masakali’ when it doesn’t even sound like original

If Bagchi wants to envisage a different version of the works of masters, he should do it in a way that enriches the original source. Unfortunately, Masakali 2.0 dishonours the memory of Masakali.

If Bollywood composers continue this way, it could be just a matter of time before Rahman turns into an enraged green giant and starts smashing things.